Ben Affleck's latest project sees the actor/director donning a fedora rather than a cowl. Live by Night - based on the novel by Dennis Lehane - is a story about crime, corruption, greed, hate, revenge and most of all...booze. Set during prohibition, Affleck's Joe Coughlin is a war veteran and an outlaw who gets in deep with members of organised crime and their illegal rum trade. The gangster movie seems to have in recent years gone out of fashion, much like the western. But can Live by Night do for gangster movies what Bone Tomahawk and The Magnificent Seven remake are doing for the western?
The movie starts strong with a brilliant car chase through Boston, reminiscent of Affleck's previous movie, The Town. Everything that happens is building towards this revenge story. In seeking his revenge, Coughlin must make alliances with people he would otherwise avoid. These people live in a world of greed, where everyone hates everyone else, and for a multitude of different reasons. You've got rival criminal gangs, corrupt cops, christians and the KKK. There are some great performances in this movie, as evidenced by the fact you despise most of the characters. Coughlin and his friends on the other hand are smart, maybe it's that old cliche that you like the main characters despite the fact they're criminals but you want them to succeed.
Live by Night ticks along at a steady pace for the first hour or so, much like Coughlin in his mission to take control of the rum trade. His ambitions at this point seem to take over from his desire for revenge and it's here that the story gets lost. Coughlin tries to branch out into a new industry, but a knowledge of history and US laws makes this part of the story predictable. It never gets boring, and it is interesting to watch these characters attempt to make their new venture happen, but knowing how it will turn out takes something away from the story and it seems to dwindle. In the final act the pace does pick up again and the action packed finale is brilliant.
Ben Affleck has once again demonstrated his abilities by delivering a great performance within his own brilliantly directed movie. As to whether it will re-ignite interest in the gangster movie I don't know. Live by Night may not be the best credit on his CV, but it's still better than a lot of movies coming out of Hollywood these days.
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